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France Is The New Frontier...

...After Ireland Retreat Attracts Writers Worldwide

As we at ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ basks in the success of our first post-Covid, in-person writing retreat in the ruggedly authentic Donegal on the inspiring northwest coast of the Emerald Isle, we are proud to announce our latest initiative - a week-long retreat in beautiful Languedoc, a coastal region in southern France. Our week-long creative writing retreat there will take place there next Spring. As places are strictly limited, contact us before our deadline of midnight (Irish time) Sunday, 31 October (Halloween), if you have an interest in attending. Acceptance on the retreat will be on a first-come, first-served basis, but as importantly on your responses to an application questionnaire we will send to you, evaluation being based on a points system. No payments are being accepted at this time for the retreat until selection is completed. Payment will be requested at a later date. Email your interest to Ireland Writing Retreat, giving full contact details, so we can reach out to you with further details.

Languedoc - Where and what is it? Also called Languedoc-Roussillon, this bucolic region of fruit orchards and extensive forests and mountains extends from Provence to the Pyrenees Mountains and to the nearby border with Spain. It includes the western Mediterranean coast of France, stretching from the Rhone valley in the east, to the Spanish border in the south west. The fertile coastal plain is given over to agriculture, vineyards and - particularly in Roussillon - fruit and vegetables. Languedoc is one of France's major wine-growing areas. Part of an area known as Occitanie, it is a major wine producer, with Vin de Pays d'Oc and sparkling Crémant de Limoux among its best-known varieties. Those who do not want to spend their holidays being char-grilled on a beach will perhaps prefer to discover the old Languedoc, away from the cities and the immediate coastal strip. Inland Languedoc is a beautiful area, characterised by vineyards and 'garrigue,' arid rocky Mediterranean hills with their vegetation of scrub, aromatic bushes and occasional fields. The regional capital, Montpellier, is home to a well-preserved medieval quarter and many picturesque towns line its beaches and hills. Other major cities in the region are Nimes, Narbonne, Sete and Perpignan.

Today, the coast of Languedoc is characterised by long sandy beaches, often with plenty of space, and a modern tourist infrastructure, with twentieth-century resorts such as Cap d'Agde, Palavas, or Narbonne Plage.

North and northeast of Montpellier, the valleys, more wooded and rural, give way to the Cevennes hills, the southeastern peaks of the Massif Central.

The area has a lot of historic cities, such as Nimes with its superb Roman remains, the famous walled city of Carcassonne, the former Roman provincial capital of Narbonne, and other smaller ancient cities, such as Agde .

The Pyrenees, forming a natural land barrier between France and Spain, are a beautiful range of high mountains, wooded on their lower slopes, but offering good mountain and hill walking higher up - not to mention the attraction of day trips into Spain. The coastline where they meet the sea is unlike the rest of the Languedoc coast, and is characterised by old coastal villages such as Banyuls and Collioure, rocky cliffs and small coves. The villages on the Pyrenean coastline can be reached directly by train.

Our Irish Retreat in Donegal

As for our September writing in northwestern Ireland on the famous 'Wild Atlantic Way,' that was a multi-cultural event with participants from Mexico, Iceland, the US, Ireland, the UK and Denmark, all partaking in a combination of practical writing workshops and daily cultural excursions.

It was the first in-person retreat we've been able to host in 18 months since the outbreak of Covid during which time - with crises often leading to opportunities - we launched our highly-successful ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (WAWA), now in its fourth edition.

The ongoing competition, with a maximum 500-word limit, includes both flash fiction and creative nonfiction such as travel stories, memoir and social reportage. And with the latest deadline just past, we look forward to hearing the decisions of judges very soon.

We will publish some finalists’ stories from previous competitions in the coming weeks.

Sadly, the onset of the virus last year put an end to our in-person week-long retreats, though with crises sometimes creating opportunities, we did host writing workshops with various authors on Zoom and launched our first-ever awards, ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (WAWA) with over one thousand people having already entered our three competitions so far,” said retreat co-ordinator Columbia Hillen from Bun na Leaca. “It was great, however, to resume our normal retreats at Teac Jack in Glassagh where manager, Gearoid McFadden, and his staff work very closely with us to make our arts project successful.

Well-known Irish musician and director of Donegal Music Education Partnership (DMEP), Martin McGinley, with fellow musician, Noel Lenaghan, opened our Irish retreat last month with a private concert of traditional Irish music and story-telling (seanchai in Irish), focusing on folktales, particularly related to faeries, as well as a short talk about the Donegal council supported music project.

'Ireland Writing Retreat' co-founder, journalist-editor-cum-author Sean Hillen, was the lead writing tutor for the week, with additional visiting speakers, including a well-respected Irish poet.

My wife, Martha and I came to this little corner of Ireland all the way from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico and I must say I’ve learned a lot about how best to write flash fiction and creative nonfiction,” said participant, Donald Wehmyer. “Collective feedback from our tutor and fellow participants on the stories we were assigned was excellent.”

Added Dr. Martha Wehmyer, “Lots of exciting things happened at the retreat, including a night of traditional Irish music and visits to a castle and a century-old thatched cottage which helped us culturally understand how people lived in this region in the past. Visiting this part of Ireland, which we have never been to before, proved extremely enjoyable.”

Maria O’Rourke, writer and former teacher and school principal from Carlow, said she was left “absolutely fascinated by the beautiful landscape” of west Donegal. “Though I’m from Ireland, I’d never been to Donegal before and I have been delighted with what I have seen and experienced. I learned a lot about writing, met some wonderful people from around the world and have no hesitation in recommending this retreat to everyone.

"It is always nice to spend time in the company of other writers," said Halldor Valdimarsson, trade union leader and writer in Iceland. "Getting criticism, constructive feedback and pointers, and this retreat was no exception, with a good group gathered here in Donegal. All told, a very enjoyable, effective and useful time that will help me in my future writing."

‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ also expanded its relationship with national Irish-language group, Foras na Gaeilge, which provided key learning materials for participants to learn basic Irish phrases at an event at the 100-year-old thatched cottage, Teach Mhuiris, overlooking the ‘Wild Atlantic Way,’ as well as sean-nos dancing from local couple, Eileen and Frank Sweeney. Foras also helped host for the first time at the retreat writers as Gaeilge such as Donegal poet, Collette Gallagher. Guest speaker, local Irish-language planning officer, Dónall Ó Cnáimhsí, explained steps being taken to promote use of Irish.

We are always thinking about new events, new speakers, new excursions to make our retreats even better, and, being in the Donegal Gaeltacht, this extension of our relationship with Foras na Gaeilge is a natural one,” said Columbia. “We’ve collaborated with the group over the years with executive officer Colm O’Baoill and his staff in the nearby coastal town of Bunbeg being extremely helpful.”

Participants also enjoyed ‘discovery walks’ with members of Moving Mevagh Forward in and around Doe Castle, and a visit to The Workhouse museum in the market town of Dunfanaghy which focuses on the Irish famine. They also experienced a tour of Amharclann, the Irish-language theatre in Bunbeg, and a talk there hosted by former national Irish-language broadcaster, Áine Ní Churráin, with short big-screen films of previous music, dance and theatrical performances held there.

Looking forward now to the next retreat in gorgeous Languedoc.

Remember to email us your interest before midnight (Irish time) Sunday, 31 October (Halloween) so we can send you out our questionnaire.

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